Perspectives: Jennifer Guidry, Hercules Offshore: Empowered employees key to achieving incident-free operations
By Chris Cantu, Editorial Assistant
Jennifer Guidry never expected to find herself in a leadership position at an offshore drilling company in Houston. “One of the greatest things I’ve learned,” she said, “is that to achieve extraordinary things, we sometimes have to set our fear of failure aside and simply take action aligned with our values and goals. If you miss the mark, you pick yourself up, you learn something and you move forward.”
Ms Guidry, who holds a Bachelor’s of Science in Environmental Health Sciences from Purdue University, moved to Houston from San Francisco in 2006. She had spent most of her early career in environmental health physics, including managing the environmental remediation of radioactive materials from SUPERFUND/FUSRAP sites. By 2006, she was looking for a change.
Soon after moving to Houston, Ms Guidry received a call from Baker Hughes with an opportunity to join the oil and gas industry. Although she recalls being unfamiliar with both the company and the industry, she believes it was her diverse experience in environmental health sciences and health physics that gave her a foot in the door to this highly complex and dynamic business.
For the next several years, Ms Guidry managed a segment of the global HSE program for Baker Hughes INTEQ. The ultimate goal, as always, was to achieve incident-free operations. And to do that, she realized her job wasn’t about creating new safety programs or safety products. “I never really saw myself in the design and manufacturing capacity where most engineers are,” she said. “It was more of how people can achieve ‘best in class’ for their service or product while doing it safely and responsibly.”
In 2009, she joined Hercules Offshore as Director of Corporate Management Systems & Environmental Affairs and realized how much more she still had to learn about the oil and gas industry and, specifically, the drilling industry. “I thought that after being in (the oil and gas industry) for a few years that I understood the business. Then I realized how vast the industry is and how little I actually knew,” she said. One of her first challenges on the job, she recalled, was helping the company to comply with the NPDES Vessel General Permit program. The US Environmental Protection Agency had just issued the new regulations, and Ms Guidry remembers going through a significant level of on-the-job learning, figuring out how the new regulations were to be applied to offshore drilling.
Now VP of QHSE for Hercules Offshore, Ms Guidry manages the company’s QHSE implementation and ensures compliance with internal, external and regulatory requirements. She also serves as a people-builder, she believes, when it comes to safety. “You can force people to do it,” she said. “I can stand over you and watch you 24 hours a day, but that’s not very effective or efficient, is it? The best way is to influence, persuade, motivate and empower you. The way you do that with people is to build a shared value system through your relationships and go after shared goals together. You’re going to do something if you find value in it for yourself.”
In her almost six years at Hercules Offshore, Ms Guidry has helped take the company from one that had “the required environmental guidelines to a company that is ISO 9001 and 14001 certified,” she said. “Each one of my past experiences has taught me how to navigate through challenges while remaining true to the company’s mission and values. I found that what we’ve had to create, design and build is not a product; it’s a value system and, ultimately, a culture.
Part of that culture is the importance of authenticity when it comes to the company’s stated values, Ms Guidry explained. A company will achieve incident-free operations only when they consistently demonstrate their core company values and when they live their mission in each and every job, each and every tour and each and every hitch. “That means our people – individually and collectively, not just a few or a majority – are empowered to do the right thing because they value doing the right thing and all of their actions are aligned, not just because the boss said so.” Authenticity, she believes, along with collaboration and teamwork, will take the industry to the next level.
“Once you have that authenticity, your managers start to manage differently and your leaders start to lead differently. Then your supervisors start to supervise differently, your peer groups start to work together differently, and all of this ends up as a created culture of 100% accountability.”
Ms Guidry said she would like to see more positive industrywide campaigns highlighting all the extraordinary accomplishments we have achieved, noting that it would go a long way to communicate the message across to the public that the energy sector operates responsibly, consciously and safely. Working with regulators is just as important, she said, and industry needs a united voice that supports regulations aligned with a purpose, not with paperwork. This administrative burden, she said, “takes people’s focus away from what we’re out there to do… Our focus needs to be on drilling safely, not on administrative paperwork.”
Managing people, after all, is not about filling out forms and doing paperwork only for the sake of saying you have the paperwork. Especially when it comes to managing teams of individuals from diverse backgrounds – as many teams in the oilfield are – requires commitment, alignment, patience, agility and leadership in order to keep everyone on the same path toward a united goal. “As leaders, it’s important to recognize that it’s about what we can do for the team and about what we’re here to do as a team, as an organization and as an industry. It’s about what we want our legacy to be and how we want to operate our business.” Leaders must recognize and honor the enormity of that responsibility with humility, she said.
Ms Guidry, who received a master’s degree in organizational leadership from Columbia Southern University in 2013, previously served as chair of the IADC Environmental Subcommittee and currently serves as co-chair of the IADC HSE Committee. She sees the committee as a forum for the industry to collaborate and leverage HSE practices, as well as to address the many ongoing and new issues such as training, regulatory compliance and knowledge transfer.
One of the biggest challenges the committee is facing, she said, is knowledge transfer. Experts who are either retiring or moving to new opportunities have significant levels of historical knowledge, and the industry must work on extracting that knowledge and passing it on to the new generation, she said. “We don’t want to reinvent the wheel. We just want to align proven protocols with what we’re doing and where we want to go, which is incident-free operations, and how we are going to get there.” She emphasized the importance of retaining information from all segments of industry – operators, drilling contractors, engineers, OIMs, geologists, toolpushers, etc. “They’re brilliant,” she said. “It would be a shame if we don’t leverage their experience, their knowledge, their skills, their capability. I often stand in wonderment and amazement of the fine people in the oil and gas industry, and I am honored to serve them.”